Effects of urban noise on song and response behaviour in great tits

Emily J. Mockford, Rupert C. Marshall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

144 Citations (SciVal)


Acoustic communication is fundamental in avian territory defence and mate attraction. In urban environments where sound transmissions are more likely to be masked by low-frequency anthropogenic noise, acoustic adaptations may be advantageous. However, minor modifications to a signal could affect its efficacy. While recent research has shown that there is divergence between songs from noisy and quiet areas, it is unknown whether these differences affect the response to the signal by its receivers. Here, we show that there is a difference in spectral aspects of rural and urban song in a common passerine, the great tit Parus major, at 20 sites across the UK. We also provide, to our knowledge, the first demonstration that such environmentally induced differences in song influence the response of male territory holders. Males from quiet territories exhibited a significantly stronger response when hearing song from another territory holder with low background noise than from those with high background noise. The opposite distinction in response intensity to homotypic versus heterotypic song was observed in males from noisy territories. This behavioural difference may intensify further signal divergence between urban and rural populations and raises important questions concerning signal evolution.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2979-2985
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1669
Early online date03 Jun 2009
Publication statusPublished - 01 Aug 2009


  • song
  • great tit
  • urban noise
  • playback response
  • adaptation
  • signal divergence


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